Tag Archives: kerst

{12} Speculaasbrokken

I had grand plans to make something from the Netherlands this year – the duivekater, a Christmas loaf which a long history that even appears in famous artwork from the Dutch Golden Age. Well, you can see from the name of this post that it is not what happened. I did manage to make a duivekater for Christmas day, and it was certainly delicious, but I did it all in something of a rush. So much so that it ended up looking like something that would not have been out of place on cakewrecks rather than being the jolly photogenic festive centrepiece I had in mind. Of course I will give it another go, so I’ve already added it to my list for next year’s baking.

But this leaves me with one bake missing. So what to do? Well, something else, obviously! I’ve reflected on all the complex, intricate things I made this year, and have decided to go in the opposite direction this time. I’ve made speculaasbrokken, which are simple, quick and delicious. You might think that I made something a bit fancy and then dropped it by mistake, but this is what they should look like – the name means “pieces” or “chunks” of speculaas, or Dutch spiced biscuits.


Speculaas cookies is a key part of Christmas in the Netherlands, and you can find the famous “windmill cookies” with their intricate designs formed using wooden moulds, and more simple “spiced nuts” which are rolled into little balls and baked. You can make the special speculaas spice mixture yourself if you have the time and inclination, otherwise you can used mixed spice or pumpkin spice for a similar effect. Whatever you do, make sure you’re pretty generous with the spices!

The method here is really easy. You throw everything in a bowl, make a dough, then chill it, roll it and bake it. Either make one mega-cookie or four smaller ones. After baking, you can either break it into pieces and serve it à la manière rustique but I think there is something quite satisfying and a little bit dramatic about brining it whole to the table and then smashing it in front of your guests. 

To make speculaasbrokken:

• 300g plain white flour
150g unsalted butter
160g dark brown sugar
• 6 teaspoons mixed spices
1/2 teaspoon salt (skip if using salted butter)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cold water
whole or flaked almonds, for decoration

1. Put all the ingredients apart from the water and almonds into a bowl, and work with your fingers until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add enough cold water to make a soft dough. Wrap in cling film, flatten, and chill for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

3. Roll the dough out to 3/4 cm thickness – you can do it in one large pieces, or make 4 separate pieces. Brush with milk and put almonds on top. If you are using whole almonds, you can make some sort of pattern, or you can use flaked almonds, in which case just sprinkle and press them down.

4. Bake the speculaas for around 45 minutes until it is dark looks evenly cooked. Turn half-way for an even colour.

5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Then either break it into pieces to store, or keep it whole and smash it when you have guests for maximum impact.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{9} Kerstkransjes

Oh my…I remember when I embarked on my endeavour to do 12 festive goodies. It was the middle of November, I had loads of time and dozens of ideas. And, of course, I now realise that I didn’t know quite what I was undertaking. The result? I’ve been very busy and pretty much up to my eyes in baked goods.

Needless to say, colleagues and friends have been frankly pretty delighted at the seemingly never-ending flow of treats. This little challenge has also led to a reawakening of my competitive side – I’ve got a new-found determination to finish the project before Christmas Day!

By now, there are Christmas trees everywhere and the city is decked in lights. And while I know it’s rather twee, I do like edible decorations on trees. Chocolate decorations? Check! Biscuits? check! Even candy canes (even if that’s too much sugar for me).

So why not try making them myself? Well, no reason no to, so I revisited the old Dutch cookbook I used recently to make speculaas, and that’s how I hit upon the idea of making today’s recipe: kerstkransjes.

Kerstkransjes are a Dutch treat which means “little Christmas wreaths”. They are simple crisp butter biscuits, which are cut into the ring shape, then finished in whatever way the cook of the day feels like. You can leave them plain, glaze with milk or egg wash, get smart and match with your tree decor (red? metallic?) or simply apply different toppings (such as pearl sugar, icing, chocolate). Personally, I think almonds are best. I love the rich flavour and intense savouriness they have when they have been toasted in the oven.

The shape of these cookies is traditional, and while it might look rather elaborate, there’s a simple trick to it – remember that the Dutch are one of the few peoples able to rival the Scots for thriftiness (we, of course, win). Use a fluted scone cutter for the outside ring, transfer to the baking sheet, and then use a smaller cutter to remove the centre. Simple!

Now, you may be one of those people that worries about the inherent flaw in edible decorations – they get eaten! You go to all that effort to create some sort of festive arrangement on the tree, only to find that your efforts have been munched away, leaving the tree stripped.

Well, just follow the example of smart Dutch bakers and make more than you need to put on the tree, so that you can replenish regularly. A whole lot tastier than walking in to find someone munching on a glass bauble, eh?

If you’re not so keen to pop them on the tree, kerstkransjes also make an attractive addition to a platter of festive cookies just as they are. However, I think that they do look rather fetching on the tree. What do you think?

To make kerstkransjes (adapted from Het Haagse Kookboek)

For the dough:

• 100g light brown sugar, sieved
• 200g plain flour
• 150g cold butter, finely chopped
• 1 egg white, lightly whisked
• 3-4 drops vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon salt, finely ground

To finish the cookies:

• Milk
• caster sugar
• flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Put the sugar, flour, butter, egg white, vanilla and salt into a bowl. Use your hands to quickly knead to a smooth dough. If you have time, wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. You can skip this, but it’s just a bit easier to work with chilled dough.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface until just less than 1/2 cm thick. Use a large fluted cutter to make the biscuits and transfer to the baking sheet. Use a smaller round cutter to remove a disc from the middle of each biscuit.

Brush the biscuits with milk and sprinkle with flaked almonds and sugar.

Bake the cookies for around 20 minutes until lightly golden, turning half-way to make sure they colour evenly.

Worth making? Yes! This is a very easy recipe, and although made with store cupboard ingredients, they look very pretty and taste great. The dough is also an excellent standby all year when you want to make simple thin, crisp biscuits.

7 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

{2} Speculaaskruiden

If you’re going to make festive biscuits, you need to get spicy!

Hence the second part of the “Twelve Goodies of Christmas” is a traditional spice mixture from the Netherlands.

Last year, I made a batch of German Lebkuchengewürz. Rather than trying more of the same, this year I’ve taken some inspiration from further west, and made a batch of Dutch speculaaskruiden (speck-oo-lass-krau-den).

My last mixture served me well over the past year, in everything from biscuits to fruit pies and compotes. So if you’re a little apprehensive about making a batch of mixed spice on the basis you won’t use it all, don’t worry. A little pinch of these sort of mixtures will add a lovely gingerbread flavour in place of plain old cinnamon.

I know that you would not normally arrange spices on neat little paper squares, but I found it quite interesting to see how the colours of each spice vary, and as you work with each, the different aromas will fill your kitchen with the most wonderful warm, woody smells. The warmth of cinnamon and ginger, pungent cloves, fresh cardamom and coriander and aromatic nutmeg, star anise and mace.

In making this, I used ground spices for a number of the ingredients – I’ve tried to grind cloves before, but they are tough little fellows, so you end up using a coffee grinder, and frankly – you’ll never get rid of the smell! Fine if you happen to like spiced coffee, but I don’t. So for the really tough ones, I buy pre-ground. However, I did grind some of them myself – the cardamom seeds were tackled with a mortar and pestle, while the nutmeg and star anise got the grater treatment. Just be sure to pass them through a very fine sieve, so you get rid of any woody bits of spice.

What you will notice when you compare the Dutch and German recipes is that they use many of the same basic spices – cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg – but in different proportions. And just as with so many spice mixtures, there are dozens of recipes and many people have their own ways of making them. So treat the list below as a guide, and adjust the amounts as per your preferences. For the authentic flavour, you need to add the cinnamon, cloves, mace and ginger, but add or omit anything else that takes your fancy.

Now, the big question – what to make with this mixture?

Well, speculaaskruiden is the typical flavour in a number of biscuits – speculaas in the Netherlands, speculoos in Belgium and Spekulatius in Germany. As the names suggest, these are similar types of biscuit – they’re crisp, buttery, sometimes with almonds, and with lots of spice. While they are eaten all year round, they do tasty particularly festive.

That, or add it to cakes, muffins, carrot cakes, crumbles, compotes…whatever your imagination can come up with!

To make speculaaskruiden:

• 7 teaspoons ground cinnamon(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground cloves(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground mace(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger(*)
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/2 teaspoon ground anise seeds or star anise

(*) These are essential. The other spices are entirely optional

Put everything in a bowl. Mix well – that’s it! Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place.

Worth making? This mixture is fantastic – different notes come out from the different spices, and adds a pleasant spicy note to many recipes. If you’ve got this to hand, it makes for an easy way to add a rounded spiced flavour to just about anything. Really recommended.

18 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Recipe